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'North and south still divided'

Writing in the LA Times on Saturday following a visit to the island and road-trip along the A9, the American journalist Shashank Bengali said the North and South was still divided after the civil war.

See here for full article. Extract reproduced below:

"Occasionally I would see the Sinhalese tour buses parked along the roadside, or Sinhalese families picnicking in the shade of a tree. In Kilinochchi, the Tigers' former capital, several buses were stopped next to what looked like a giant funnel tipped onto its side.

It was a water tank that had been toppled during the fighting, the steel rebar reaching out from the concrete husk like tentacles. The government had turned it into a war memorial, planting a tidy garden with flowers and a large stone tablet declaring that the damage had been done by rebel "terrorists in the face of valiant troops."

A few Sinhalese families milled about, staring gravely at the detritus. Some wandered into a gift shop where souvenir T-shirts and caps were for sale. I would later meet Tamils who deeply resented the monument, viewing it as a bid by Rajapaksa to rub their noses in the rebels' defeat.

"They take pictures like they've never seen a water tank before," said Christie Shanthni, an outspoken 50-year-old coordinator of a women's cooperative in Kilinochchi. "We don't mind if they come here, but I often wonder how they would feel if we went around in busloads celebrating the exploits of Tamil fighters."

A few years after the fighting ended, with tens of thousands of war deaths, Shanthni visited the former bunker of the Tigers' slain leader, Vellupillai Prabhakaran, which the government opened to visitors in the coastal area of Mullaitivu. She and her companion were the only Tamils there, she recalled, and they understood little because the tour guide spoke only Sinhalese.

The government reportedly destroyed the bunker in 2013, perhaps fearing that it would contribute to Prabhakaran's cult-hero status.

Before I left Colombo, a friend advised me to visit a bank, saying, "You don't want to get stuck in the north without cash." That would have been difficult; every little town along A9 had multiple banks with ATMs, part of the economic development that Rajapaksa often boasted he brought to the north.

Yet Tamils saw that too in a darker light. The banks and lending companies offered easy financing for motorcycles, appliances and other consumer goods that were suddenly available in this long-shuttered economy. Many families plunged into debt — another ploy by the south, in the eyes of some, to subjugate the Tamils.

The afternoon light melted into the horizon as we pulled into sleepy Jaffna and I alighted at my guesthouse. At breakfast, I met a Sinhalese man who had emigrated to Los Angeles and was visiting the north for the first time with his mother.

Jaffna was nice, he said, except he was surprised that almost no one spoke Sinhalese. I watched him struggle to communicate with the Tamil-speaking kitchen staff in English, just as I did. It suddenly struck me that he, a native Sri Lankan, and I, an American visiting for the first time, were almost equally foreign in this war-scarred place."